It’s August 2018.
College football season is just around the corner. Predictions begin pouring in from across the country.
The general consensus seems to be Syracuse will finish right on the fringes of bowl eligibility. Here at The Juice Online, we predicted the Orange would return to postseason football with a 6-6 record before winning the Quick Lane Bowl over Indiana.
The most optimistic of media predictions had SU at a 7-5 regular season record.
In short, expectations were fairly low.
The win over Florida State marked a big step forward for the Orange on its return to national prominence. Rumblings about entering the rankings began in earnest, something not talked about in a long time in Central New York.
A trip to Death Valley offered a chance to really make a statement. Leaving South Carolina at 5-0 and beating Clemson for the second straight year might have caused Syracuse to explode.
Still, the close loss left fans wanting more.
Despite all the warning signs, losing to Pittsburgh seemed to indicate Syracuse still had a ways to go. The Top 25 talks died down for a bit and concerns about how much progress the Orange had truly made surfaced. A nail-biter over UNC did not do anything to quell the murmurings ‘Cuse was overrated.
Outgunning NC State in the Dome finally did the trick.
Syracuse was ranked for the first time since 2001. The Orange returned to the national stage and did not disappoint. Convincing wins over Wake and Louisville propelled SU to No. 12 in the polls and set up a showdown with Notre Dame.
The loss to the Irish was humbling and came with a clear message to all Syracuse fans. Temper your expectations.
Many started to read the headlines about a potential New Year’s Six bowl game for the Orange and started to dream big. I fell into the same trap, talking about a potential Fiesta Bowl meeting with West Virginia, renewing an old Big East rivalry.
Notre Dame reminded me, along with several others, the unique place Syracuse finds itself in at this point in the season.
As we approach Thanksgiving, Syracuse has exceeded expectations. We all know it. The fact the Orange is 8-3 and ranked 20th is incredible.
This team was picked to finish last in the ACC Atlantic this season. Instead, Dino Babers has this team solidified as number two in the division trailing only No. 2 Clemson.
So as the Orange gears up for its final regular season game against Boston College, the pressure is totally off. Syracuse wasn’t even supposed to make it this far.
Yes, playing in a big-time bowl game would be really nice, but let’s not get greedy. Think about how happy we would have been playing in the Pinstripe Bowl back in September.
At this point, Syracuse has already checked all the boxes on a successful season. The game against Notre Dame demonstrated the gap Babers still has to close in the ensuing seasons, but the foundation has been laid for future success.
For all those disheartened by the loss to the Irish, it was about the worst offensive game Syracuse could have played against an undefeated top five team in a mostly hostile environment. It does not make this season a disappointment.
The tough thing is now repeating this kind of success. Other programs will not sleep on the Orange next year.
Based on how well the team played this season, it cannot afford to dip back down below .500 and fail to reach a bowl game next year.
Eric Dungey will not be trotting back onto the field in orange next season. Don’t sugarcoat it, that’s a big blow.
Dungey has propelled this team offensively for the past three seasons. Having another player under center will be an odd sight. However, it does not change the expectations for next year.
The 2019 Syracuse football team will be more talented. Even without Dungey, Moe Neal, Devin Butler, Sean Riley and Nykeim Johnson will all likely return for the offense.
Defensively, Alton Robinson, McKenzie Williams and Kendall Coleman could all be back along with the entire secondary. The talent will be there, but so will the pressure.
Babers and company will need to continue to develop. Succeeding next season will be harder.
Nothing will happen over the last two games for Syracuse that will change anything for next year’s team. Just sit back and enjoy what has already been a very special season.
It’s not every year you run the table and end up with a chance for double-digit wins.